“Who shall judge?” Hobbes, Locke and Kant on the construction on public reason

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Chambers, Simone (2009)
  • Publisher: Co-Action Publishing
  • Journal: Ethics & Global Politics (issn: 1654-6369, eissn: 1654-4951)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/egp.v2i4.2135
  • Subject: public reason; pluralism; Hobbes; Locke; Kant

This paper investigates early modern and enlightenment roots of contemporary ideas of public reason. I argue that concepts of public reason arose in answer to the question ‘who shall judge?’ The religious and moral pluralism unleashed by the reformation lead first to the weakening of authoritative common forms of reasoning, this in turn and more importantly lead to the question who is the final arbiter when a political community is faced with deep disagreement about political/ moral questions. The rise of pluralism meant that to the question ‘what are the standards of public right?’ is added the corollary and equally important question ‘who judges when those standards are violated?’ The answer is that the public judges. Public reason thus refers to the role of the public as judge of public right and not simply to a set of reasons that an actual public happens to share. On this reading of Hobbes, Locke, and Kant, the initial contract recedes in importance while the seat of authoritative political judgment comes to the fore. Keywords: public reason; pluralism; Hobbes; Locke; Kant (Published: 4 December 2009) Citation: Ethics & Global Politics, Vol. 2, No. 4, 2009, pp. 349368. DOI: 10.3402/egp.v2i4.2135
  • References (25)
    25 references, page 1 of 3

    Gerard J. Postema, 'Public Practical Reason: Political Practice', in Nomos XXXVII: Theory and Practice, ed. Ian Shapiro and Judith Wagner DeCew (New York: New York University Press, 1995), 345 85; Duncan Ivison, 'The Secret History of Public Reason: Hobbes to Rawls', History of Political Thought 18, no. 1 (1997), 126 47; Stephan Macedo, Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990); Jeremy Waldron, 'Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism', in Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981 1991, ed. Jeremy Waldron (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 35 63.

    It would not be possible to list all the work being done in this area at the moment. The theorists who offer the two most influential paradigms are of course John Rawls and Ju¨ rgen Habermas, but there are a number of other models as well. I offer a brief list of some main contributors: Gerard J. Postema, 'Public Practical Reason: An Archeology', Social Philosophy and Policy 12 (1995), 43 86; David Gauthier, 'Public Reason', Social Philosophy and Policy 12, no. 1 (1995), 19 42; John Rawls, Political Liberalism, paperback ed. (New York: Colombia University Press, 1996); Ju¨ rgen Habermas, 'Reconciliation through the Public Use of Reason', Journal of Philosophy 92, no. 3 (1995), 109 131; Charles Larmore, 'The Moral Basis of Political Liberalism', Journal of Philosophy 96, no. 12 (1999), 599 625; Gerald F. Gaus, Justificatory Liberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).

    Mark Button also argues that reading Hobbes and Locke as theorists of public reason rather than contract is very rewarding. Button, however, sees the core of their views to be articulated in a theory of transformative education in which public reason is inculcated in citizens. I do not share this view. Mark E. Button, Contract, Culture, and Citizenship: Transformative Liberalism from Hobbes to Rawls (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Press, 2008).

    Rawls, Political Liberalism, 213.

    Ivison, 'The Secret History of Public Reason: Hobbes to Rawls'; Philip Pettit, Made with Words: Hobbes on Language, Mind, and Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

    John Gray, 'Pluralism and Toleration in Contemporary Political Philosophy', Political Studies 48, no. 10 (2000), 323 33; Peter Jones, 'Toleration, Value Pluralism, and the Fact of Pluralism', Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 9, no. 2 (2006), 189 210. Value-pluralism is an ethical and sometimes meta-ethical doctrine that maintains that values are irreducibly plural whether or not they are recognized as such by people in general. Value-pluralism is saying something about 'the moral universe we inhabit' and not something in the first instance about the social and political world we inhabit. William A.

    Galston, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 48.

    William E. Connolly, Pluralism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

    Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 128.

    Ibid., 145.

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